Thursday, April 25, 2013

Gardening in Layers

One of the reasons why I love to grow things here in Tucson in the summer time is to see my garden turn into a miniature jungle. On a small scale, I can use the intense light to my advantage by packing in as many vegetables as I can into as small as a space as possible. This is what I call “intensive planting”.


My understory here has squash and sweet potato vines.

Intensive planting can occur in an area where the intensity and duration of sunlight is so great that you can cover every square inch of ground with vegetables. In areas of the country where there is minimal light (or in partially shaded areas with a lot of moisture) gardeners may not be able to grow their plants so close together without experiencing negative side effects such as bacterial or fungus problems.

As I plan my garden based on where the sun will be and based on how much light my plants will receive throughout the day I am getting the most light out of the area that I have. As I decide where to plant vegetables, I think of my plants based on their eventual size, and imagine what my “miniature jungle” will look like later on in the summer.
 
One method of intense planting is to consider plant height

 The lowest canopy of my garden is often covered with sweet potatoes – which spread like ivy in all directions – only a few inches off the ground. The next tallest area is populated with peppers, tomatoes, squash and other plants that grow between 2 and 4 feet tall. The highest area of my garden is populated with cucumber or bean vines, some of which will grow as high as I can trellis.

Vigorous tall pole beans grow next to squash of medium height

By thinking about layers when planting, gardeners can avoid having to do much weeding, especially later in the season. Though this method may not be for everyone, it is definitely one approach that has served me well for me here in Arizona.


One of the few problems with a crowded garden is where to walk


8 comments:

  1. Great post. Not enough people realise how much more you can grow if you take layering into account and make it work like natural forests do.

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    1. Thank you for your reply, Rowan. I hope it is helpful.

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  2. Great to see this post as it gives many gardeners ideas of what is possible if you study your climate and utilize the natural surroundings.....you perfectly described my climate moisture and not as much sun so I give plants a bit more room. I do however use the shadier areas to plant veggies that bolt in intense summer sun like lettuces.

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    1. Dear Donna,
      Thanks for the response. I often try to plan based on what I imagine my winter garden will look like when the plants bolt. Sometimes reality looks so different from my imagination!

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  3. My veggie garden will end up looking like a jungle, too, but not one I have planned!

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    1. So a jungle more out of neglect than out of planning? (=

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  4. Hi Jay,

    Have you tried growing using the 3 sister's method?

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    1. Dear Jill,

      Thanks for the question. The three sisters’ method is a really good approach in its ideas, but that approach would require a lot more garden space than I have. The three sisters’ method requires wider spacing between the corn and use of bean varieties that are better adapted to a partial shade environment. Although people have utilized the three sister's method in smaller plots, seedsavers would probably want at least a 1/4 acre plot to keep the corn from experiencing inbreeding depression. This is probably one of the main reasons why gardeners grow hybrid corn - because it is often more vigorous and most gardeners do not have the space in their garden required to save vigorous corn seed.

      My post on inbreeding depression does a better job of explaining this: http://scientificgardener.blogspot.com/2012/01/on-inbreeding-depression.html

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I look forward to learning more about gardening with you. Your comments help me recognize that gardening is a life-long journey.

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